In World War I, it was called shell shock. In World War II, it was combat fatigue or combat neurosis. Vietnam veterans were labeled as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What psychiatric casualties of war means is that normal men, and now women, can only tolerate so much combat before they begin to develop psychiatric symptoms. Simply put, war is too horrible, frightening and chaotic - the hell referred to by Sherman - for the human mind not to be adversely affected by it.
I have read figures from as low as 30 percent of combatants develop PTSD to as high as 98 percent if a soldier is subject to enough combat, usually defined as twenty eight days. It is a normal response to an abnormal, man-caused, prolonged trauma. In other words, anyone would break down under too intense and prolonged combat conditions.
Many vets develop similar symptoms. They don’t talk about their experiences because they want to forget them or are afraid others might think lesser of them. Their wives don’t understand their behavior and the next generation doesn’t learn the true facts about war. They think, mistakenly it can be glorious which may be why we keep having wars generation after generation, back to the dawn of history. There is a chiasmic difference between the awful reality of war and the slick recruitment ads on television.
You’ll find veterans doing many things to try to feel safe because they were exposed to very dangerous, life and limb threatening experiences. They’ll sit with their backs to the walls in a restaurant, so they can see everyone, they’ll double and triple check their locks at night and maybe have a weapon near their beds. They’ll have terrible nightmares, or night sweats, or daytime flashbacks as their minds try to work through what cannot be fully comprehended and assimilated.
They’ll torture themselves with thoughts of what they could have done to prevent a buddy from being blown to bits in front of their horrified, disbelieving eyes. Or they’ll hate themselves for having survived while others didn’t make it back except in body bags.
To drown our their pain, many of them turn to drugs or alcohol. What else can they do? Some will be angry, especially the Vietnam veterans who were abused when they came home, rather than honored, and who feel their suffering and sacrifices were for naught.
Many have several marriages because they are too afraid to get close to another human being again since they lost good buddies in the war. Some even shun human company altogether and live in the wilderness on what the land provides.
If only they could talk about their experiences, they might feel better, but it is too painful. The tears come to men thirty five years later who were taught real warriors don’t cry.
And now it seems we’re going to have a fresh batch of psychiatric casualties who will require our help and support.
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